By Lazar Dzamić
Lazar Dzamić is Xoogler, creative strategist, university lecturer, author. He is lecturer on digital marketing and transformation at the Faculty of Media and Communications in Belgrade, Business School Lausanne, and the School of Economics and Business in Ljubljana.
Only if we become literate in new ways, will we be able to surmount the challenges of today as a germinated future.
The very term “literacy” is ripe for change. Functional typographic literacy—reading and writing—is not only the most basic condition for managing in the modern world, but barely sufficient anymore. General typographic literacy does allow us some rudimental communication in the mediated space of the screen, but it doesn’t generate—not alone, at least—capabilities for wisdom and good decisions, protection and development, individually and collectively. For that, we need new forms of literacy, from our earliest years, on a systemic, society-wide level. Typographic literacy, as powerfully elaborated by Neil Postman in his seminal book “Amusing ourselves to death,” has lost the war with TV, and now, with the internet.
What are these new literacies that we need? What is the blueprint for a new education?
There is a lot of debate about that. My take on it derives from and is inspired by all the contributions so far, but packages it somewhat differently. I’ve never seen anyone talk about these literacies in an interconnected way, as the architecture for the new set of scaffolding we need, to stop repeating the mistakes of the past—and of the present.
The 20th century educational system was designed as an industrial mass internalisation of relatively scarce and not easily obtainable knowledge, largely defined as “the sea of facts.” These facts were hard to acquire in a systematic manner at the time, so they were concentrated in special books called “textbooks” and—given the reluctance of the human species to engage in hard cognitive work and add to its cognitive repertoire—disseminated in special physical spaces we know as “classrooms” and time intervals called “classes.” Everything in the educational system, including the training of teachers, was subjected to this approach.
There was a reason for this, as thoroughly explained by Todd Rose in his influential book “The end of average.” Industrialised education as we know it today was developed in America at the beginning of the last century in response to a need to discipline and train predominantly rural populations for the work in modern factories. An assembly line of the Sloan type demands standardisation, synchronisation and routine. It is an ant colony ideology, rooted in behavioural conditioning via repetition, reward and punishment—behavioural psychology of the Pavlovian-Skinnerian type in practice. Hence, the bell for the beginning and the end of classes: it mimics the factory siren, the beginning and the end of a shift, the sound stimulus for collective synchronisation. Individuality in such a scheme is pushed to the side.
“Average” performance—actually, just a bit above it, but not a lot—has become the main measure of success. The system doesn’t know what to do with irregularities and deviations. Whether “positive” or “negative,” good or bad overall, they create friction in the industrial process and have to be eliminated. In some of the most developed countries in the world, exceptionally talented children—in whatever way—, are considered children with “special needs.” Well, they do have them; it’s just not what we usually think of when using this phrase. So, we don’t know what to do with them. The system has not been made for that. And the consequences for all of us are dire.
Current education as we know it is the last gift of the Enlightenment —and it really has been, despite its current shortcomings—that hasn’t undergone an ideo-technological transformation. The classroom is the last modern archaeological artefact. It took a global pandemic that locked us into our homes, for us to realise that we actually can do even this a bit differently. This could be the chance to re-evaluate the entire notion of education, too.
Post-industrial society, often called the “fourth industrial revolution,” requires new forms of literacy for new forms of social organisation and new ways of life. I will now depart somewhat from some often-mentioned areas of learning deemed crucial for the new world, although they are contained in my suggestions. I think we have bigger fish to fry than just transforming the economy. We have to transform ourselves, as social and political beings, if we want to survive on this planet—and before we can even start thinking about moving to another one!
We need new kinds of literacies in order to stop repeating our past and current mistakes. It’s tragic, what great consumers we have become, and what bad citizens! We choose the wrong people to lead us, for the wrong reasons, based on wrong assumptions of what is important—all because our various functional illiteracies are being actively stimulated, and even generated, by our political-economic-media elites in whose interest it is that we stay that way. We are easily governed and controlled because of this. Any system that calls itself “progressive” has to pay attention and do something about this new civilisational curriculum, this new enlightenment project.
1. Archetypal narrative literacy
In a nutshell, the story is the most powerful technology humans have ever invented. It most effectively pushes us, individually and collectively, in various directions of action. It is a gravity-control machine: it can, literally, lift us up to the stars or drop us into a moral abyss. Ideologies, religions, economic systems, fashions, trends, entertainment, and media...are all stories, narratives: particular ways of constructing, conceptualising and mediating human reality. Most of them are created with the purpose of influencing not just our thoughts and feelings, but our behaviour. They all have ideological or commercial aims, and even both.
It is critical for us, to the point of our own survival, to understand how stories work and why they are so powerful. Why and how are we evolutionary primed to react strongly to them? Why are we so immersed in them? The most bizarre thing in our world today is that this literacy—possibly the key one for modern times—is not taught in this way yet. It’s one of the most widely studied arts and crafts in the world, but in an utterly utilitarian way: how to tell strong stories to become famous, make money, or be very good at selling stuff. But we don’t learn how to protect ourselves from strong stories like populism, conspiracy theories and various sorts of propaganda, whether political or commercial. This kind of literacy is the antidote to almost any of the manipulations unleashed upon us in digital space, in all its guises. This whole dark theatre of problems has just one common approach: the use of strong emotional, archetypal narratives.
Archetypal stories are formulaic: good versus evil, “us” and “them,” an external enemy who jeopardises our way of life, the essence of the true hero… These are templates for dealing with our collective anxieties, evolved and inherited over millennia. Drama and conflict, packaged into a formula, lie at their heart. Many anthropologists, from Claude Levi-Strauss to Vladimir Propp, have pointed out the formulaic nature of archetypal stories. The most famous in this regard, Joseph Campbell, published the most enduring—and most referenced—formula of all, in 1949, his seminal book, “Hero with a thousand faces.” It was an inspiration and a tool, not only for George Lucas to crack the code of “Star Wars,” but for Hollywood blockbusters in general.
This template is as powerful as it is simple to understand. Once we are aware of it, it is easy to lift the bonnet of a hot emotional story to see which simple structural buttons crafty storytellers such as populists and propagandists—and we have to give them credit for that—are pressing to get the desired reactions from us. If there is a subject that we should consciously be trained in from the very early days of our lives—but not just as passive consumers of these kinds of narratives in their commercial form—, if there is a new primary collective inoculation against a dysfunctional society, if there is an intellectual BCG vaccine against ideological cancer, archetypal narrative literacy is it.
This, of course, requires new teachers in schools at all levels. Who would be these “breakers of the spell”? This is where radical innovation kicks in. This is a mission and a space in which script- and speechwriters, novelists and copywriters, film directors and editors—storytellers of all stripes—can find new expression for their social worth. Instead of cynical, naked commercial exploitation of our narrative illiteracy, turning it into a mere business or fame, here’s a chance for a great karmic redemption, to contribute to the common good. This is who could be the new secular catechists, with a mission to demystify mystification.
2. Impulse literacy
Umbilically connected to the first literacy is the ability to understand and control emotional impulses. The modern world is an enormous, entirely human-made machine for stimulating various, often contradictory, impulses and desires. Everything is “affected” and emotionalised: our news, our religions, our economy, and of course our everyday relationships. If a thing doesn’t stimulate emotions, especially entertainment, it’s boring—and boring doesn’t sell in a Huxleyan world where we are “amusing ourselves to death.”
Rational discourse and a reasoned way of life are the most tragic victims of modern society. We are conditioned, from cradle to grave, to be impulsive, to crave instant gratification, right now, right here, and to put ourselves always at the centre—our opinions, our desires, our wants, and our feelings. Driven by profit, the modern world has been shaped around us like a comfortable old glove, so that everything is instantly available and impulse does not suffer—because that’s bad for business.
Impulsiveness is a deeply human trait: it’s how the animal inside us breathes. And that’s why civilisation is hard work, because the essence of it, in many ways, is to tame the impulses—or at least some of them. Laws, courtesies, consumer protection rules, training for non-confrontational communication and teamwork are all very demanding, hard work. Hence, the very idea of education is fired up by the still only half-realised hope that education in itself will be enough to civilise somebody. In other words, the hope that control of impulses can somehow be instilled by cramming facts into children’s heads. To which I can only quote the opening words to George Orwell’s essay “The Lion and the Unicorn:” “As I write, highly civilised human beings are flying overhead, trying to kill me.”
Unfortunately, traditional academic achievement fulfils this civilising mission only partly—mainly because our internal impulses are largely the result of our biological and cognitive evolution: the way our brain and mind process reality, the dozens of cognitive biases and heuristics that constitute the bulk of our daily functioning, especially in decision-making, and the sense of whether we are right or wrong. We now know, without any doubt, that humans are deeply irrational creatures, using their schooled mind largely to post-rationalise their emotion- and bias-driven decisions. The groundbreaking work of Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, followed by a legion of other cognitive scientists, has proven this. The fictional rational “economic man” or “econ,” the favourite fantasy of the traditional economists, has turned out to be quite false. Behavioural Economy or BE has entered the mainstream of our intellectual life and nudges have become the new policy-making tool. We have, grudgingly, accepted our irrationality.
Sadly, not in schooling. Globally, curricula do not reflect these breakthroughs in the cognitive sciences. We don’t teach children—or adults—to know and identify common human biases. The only people who do study them are those who use them to influence us in various ways: governments, advertisers, sales professionals… And the war is very asymmetrical. Against an atomised planetary population unaware even of the concept of cognitive biases, let alone what to do to mitigate the automatism of its decision-making, a concerted, hyper-rational, well-funded and immensely knowledge-rich universe of experts and interests is focused on stimulating our impulses for various, largely commercial, gains, with sometimes dire personal and collective consequences.
Herein lies one of the big paradoxes of our modern lives—lives that are already full of various simulated and engineered incompatibilities. There is a huge discrepancy, a chasm, really, between officially proclaimed political and educational missions, and the everyday commercial one. The former, superficially—and even hypocritically—, demands that we behave as rational, responsible citizens, while the latter encourages us to behave like irrational, irresponsible consumers, to act on impulse: because, without it, the consumer economy will grind to a halt. This is a deep, fundamental problem that requires deep, fundamental training. Not mere education, but long, concentrated training that no one with any power has any real interest in.
This is a pessimistic outlook, as it doesn’t seem likely that anything will happen soon to change the situation. Even Kahneman, the father of this concept, is pessimistic, given the utter inability of our political elites to even recognize the challenges of these fundamental impulses. In one of his interviews, he points to overconfidence as the plague of the political classes—and of most of us, collectively. And it all stems from the cognitive biases that we are so ignorant of.
Still, in the long run, we don’t have a choice. We either become literate and skilful in managing our evolutionary cognitive traits, or we will keep repeating the mistakes of the past. Archetypal narrative and impulse illiteracy are the main reason why, in the words of Canadian philosopher Joseph Heath, “civilizations collapse into barbarity and not the other way around.” Look at what is happening in some of the most developing countries in the world, especially the Anglo-Saxon world—which in itself is not coincidental. In just a year or so, supposedly highly civilised societies have started sliding into chaos, insecurity, ineptitude, racism, and social disorder. The most advanced economies on the planet, ones that send intelligent buggies to Mars, can’t produce simple surgical masks or disposable plastic aprons. Or feed their citizens. The veneer or, as Heath calls it, the “scaffolding” of civilisation covering our evolved impulses is thin as an eggshell.
Yet, this is a chance for cognitive scientists, marketing strategists and sales professionals to contribute to the world beyond the mere utilitarian of their professions. They are uniquely positioned to part the drapery of the grand theatre we are surrounded by and show us what’s backstage: the incentives and narratives designed to trigger our cognitive heuristics for the profit of vested interests.
3. Attention and algorithmic literacy
As a consequence of the previous two illiteracies, the real global pandemic for the last few decades has been one we’ve been most oblivious to: attention illiteracy. Attention, a neurologically restricted resource, has never been under more duress and wastage. Like a rare and precious element, everyone is mining for it. One of Google’s mantras is “Money follows attention:” whoever can attract attention is in a better position to monetise it. Attention is capital. It used to be “Please give;” now it’s “Please share.”
In fact, we live in an “attention economy” and we can see it by the number of books, articles and debates that all try to conceptualise the same problem: humans are cognitively overloaded and distracted, and hence tired, frustrated, anxious, and intellectually impaired—especially because of the paradoxical nature of the demands we face from the media, all wrapped up in very persuasive packages. Emotional vampires of all kinds have developed myriad ways to trigger our impulses, and with them our attention, to their advantage. And so, we are left to stumble through our everyday lives in the fog and dizziness generated by the fear of missing out—FOMO—, inadequacies and anxieties, losing our ability for self-reflection, empathy and quality decisions.
Attention illiteracy is not only a grave problem for the current world, but is set to become one of the major barriers for our education in the future. The fourth Industrial Revolution requires a strong focus on self-learning, largely outside institutional settings, learning on the internet, in expert groups, and via massive online open courses or MOOCs. It demands an unwavering, almost ascetic dedication, the ability to control our impulse to follow any random—or deliberate—distraction placed in our path, the willpower to resist the urge to hypersurf, to lose ourselves for hours in the infinite bowels of the internet, in the immersive worlds of online games, and the endless circus of YouTube, Netflix and other entertainment platforms. This is, currently, an insurmountable task in a world full of such distractions. The trivialisation of our lives and our attention, as also noted by Postman, quoting Huxley, is the bane of our world.
Why are we so attention-illiterate? Being unaware and untrained in how archetypal narratives and impulses work is certainly one key to the answer. However, there are environmental factors that hugely contribute as well. As Joseph Heath points out, we live in a civilisation that is cognitively the most demanding of all that humans have created so far in our collective history, and the one, also, that has a built-in, commercially-driven, predatory relationship with our attention and our time. Two technological phenomena amplify this illiteracy.
One is the ubiquitous algorithms that are one of the primary means for mediating our virtual reality—which largely means “just” reality—and the ways they support commercial, political, news and entertainment interests. They are designed to ultimately give us, not what we really need at any particular point, but what is the most commercially viable for their makers and advertisers. And, yes, that often means starting with what we need as a profiling factor. Very quickly, though, other dynamics kick in.
In his manifesto Team Human, Douglas Rushkoff powerfully summed it up: “Algorithms don’t engage with us humans directly. They engage with the data we leave in our wake, to make assumptions about who we are and how we will behave. Then they push us to behave more consistently with what they have determined to be statistically our most probable selves. They want us to be true to our profiles. … Technology is not driving itself. It doesn’t want anything. Rather, there is a market expressing itself through technology, an operating system beneath our various computer interfaces and platforms, that is often unrecognized by the developers themselves. This operating system is called capitalism, and it drives the antihuman agenda in our society at least as much as any technology.”
“Algos” are, essentially, a conditioning, a training system for automating and “outsourcing” the criteria we use to allocate our attention. The result: the economy of attention gains money, while we lose sleep and sanity. They may help us find what we think we want, but they also endlessly distract and manipulate us. Again, it is a combination of our cognitive proclivities, our archetypal and impulse illiteracy, and a socio-cultural system deliberately designed to prey on them. Moreover, algorithms are just part of the story. Possibly an even bigger problem is the addictiveness deliberately engineered into our mobile operating systems.
Mobile phones are the most intimate personal technology humans have developed so far. According to various research, we use them more than a hundred times a day and touch them more than a thousand times! No human being in our lives gets that kind of treatment. There is a reason for that. Both major global mobile operating platforms, Android and iOS, are purposefully designed to stimulate and develop addiction, the way casino machines and gaming rewards work. We’ve learned to crave notifications like endless little hits of dopamine, the addiction neuro-chemical. Mobile phones have effectively become dopamine pumps.
These pumps are affecting our future—our youth—the hardest. Humans rely on the younger generation to get us out of the mess we have created, by seeing the world with different eyes, being different politically, commercially and socially. Different, as in “better than us.” But if we look at who visits rapidly-growing clinics for technological addictions, it makes you wonder… Narrative, impulse and attention illiteracies are actually making us physically sick.
Attention illiteracy is actually leading to digital obesity, as we stuff ourselves with distractions to bursting levels, killing our ability to focus on the really important things in life. No one sleeps in front of a voting booth to be the first one to cast a ballot in the morning. We do it in front of Apple stores, and we queue for hours to be the first to run into a department store on Black Friday and fight over a discounted toaster. We have become fantastic consumers—and lousy citizens. That Friday is rightly called “black:” there’s nothing bright or positive about it. That’s why many of the things we are bewildered by in these pandemic times are happening. We are letting them happen because we are oblivious to the forces at work.
This is the real epidemic we should be talking about. It stops us seeing our current problems and, even more importantly, problems that are on the horizon. Covid-19 is a minor inconvenience compared to the looming climate crisis. And yet we weren’t able to organise ourselves to deliver even the most basic protective equipment to the medical professionals fighting for our lives! We ran out of food, supplies and jobs in a matter of days. It doesn’t bode well for what’s coming if we don’t become more attention literate.
4. Teamwork literacy
Yes, Virginia, everything is connected.
These same illiteracies are making us self-focused, even selfish, and less able to work in a group. When impulse rules and is beguiled by iconic stories, when we are the permanent centre of our own attention, and when that attention is fragile and easily seduced, our empathy with the points of view and needs of others suffers. And, once again, it has direct consequences for what we need in order to function well in the modern and rising post-industrial society.
That society is even more complex. Many occupations are becoming context-defined and depend on the complementary skills of our collaborators and team members. Lone cowboys are gradually losing their prairies. As they say in the digital project world, “The unit of delivery is the team.” For this, impulse control and empathy are required. Successful teamwork is a balancing of energies: introversion vs extroversion, different communication styles, and consensus on a shared mission or objective. Teamwork trains us in introspection and self-understanding. Todd Rose has written about this, especially what is probably the most useful and yet least-known conceptual tool for thinking about an individual in a team environment: the “jagged profile.”
This is a simple but powerful concept. We all have more and less pronounced sides to our personalities, especially when measured against a specific professional or group context. Take that staple of job recruitment ads, “a good communicator.” This is possibly one of the lamest descriptions around, a meaningless concept unless it’s put into a specific context. What communication skills are we talking about? Great at presenting in front of a dozen senior people, or just to their own team? Great one-to-one, but hopeless at brainstorming? Excellent at written communications, or barely able to write anything coherent? There are many, many sides to “a good communicator. Which of them is crucial in this particular context?
The same could be said for various other characteristics companies and recruiters use to describe the positions they are hoping to fill with good candidates. “Energetic” (what kind of energy: a steady, but slow marathoner, or a fast and short sprinter?). “Smart” (able to troubleshoot on the spot or glib to the point of annoyance). “Driven” (able to deliver, no matter what, or pathological OCD). Here’s one from my own experience, but, in this case, it’s carefully thought-through: one of the four “buckets” of characteristics that Google uses to evaluate candidates is “Googliness,” meaning the right mental/cultural match, in which one strong dimension is “thriving in chaos.” In other words, chaos shouldn’t paralyse us, but be treated as an opportunity to radically change things for the better, or to seize on a commercial opportunity. Chaos favours the agile, the nimble, the flexible. Chaos is good, if treated right. So, if you don’t index well on this trait, you may have a tough time in companies like these…
A team is an assemblage of personalities put together for a particular context or a particular objective. Understanding the personal, our own, “jagged profile,” and those of the others around us, helps with “synergy”—another favourite business buzzword. Like a team of astronauts or special forces, complementary skills and personalities matter, as it leads to less bending to fit in and less stress. There is more understanding and acceptance of everyone’s contribution to the whole, of the “me-shaped hole” that appears in our absence.
Needless to say, we don’t learn about this in school, or later. We are emotionally illiterate, which often means team illiterate. Yet our survival depends on acting in groups, large and small, globally and locally—just like it did in our evolutionary past.
5. Statistical literacy
In a world full of numbers, knowing how to read them is paramount. From an early age, we are told that the truth is in the numbers, that they equal science, that our decisions should be “evidence-based” and that if we are to avoid mistakes of the heart—an utterly blind and irrelevant organ, as far as our decisions are concerned—, our choices had better be supported by numbers.
What we have to learn, too, is that many vested interests have become spectacularly skilful at manipulating numbers to influence our opinions and decisions, to reduce our understanding, to mislead and, again, seduce us. Many commonplace phrases reflect this, from “99% of statistics tell only 49% of the truth” and Disraeli’s famous “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies and statistics,” to Andrew Lang’s “Most people use statistics like a drunk man uses a lamppost—more for support than illumination.” In short, general numerical literacy is not enough: we need practical statistical literacy, too.
Our days and our screens are full of graphs, stats, percentages, averages, wind-battered numbers standing alone in the spotlight without a context, orphans temporarily adopted by anyone eager to use them as credible testimony for their stories and their excuses. Statistics are the ammunition for the guns of stories, and we are the clay pigeons being smashed by their fusillade. As with other illiteracies in this essay, it is tragic how much this particular one contributes to our civilisational naivety. Although Hans Rosling and a few others have been valiantly fighting this fight, without systemic support we will continue to fall victim to another, even more insidious enemy of rational thought.
Examples are all around us. Understanding the difference between “average” and “typical” leads to a wholly different perception of reality. If the average salary in a country is €450, but a typical salary, that is, the most common, is €250, what does that tell us about the quality of life there? In mass marketing, “average” is one of the most dangerous numbers to base a decision on, which is why successful companies use them with caution. “Typical” is closer to reality.
Or take understanding the base for measurements: the starting level from which change is measured, whether it’s a rise or fall. If the economic growth of a country is a bit higher than neighbouring countries, but it started from a lower base and the typical growth for a similar country starting from a similar base would be expected to be even higher, are we looking at political success or spin? “Lies, damned lies and statistics.” Whatever claims to be the King, context is always God.
Probably the biggest blind spot we have in this kind of literacy, again, due to our cognitive heuristics, is our fundamental inability to deal with probability. The human brain simply doesn’t understand real statistical probability, largely because we are wired to find narratives in everything. Although it’s perfectly statistically possible that a basketball player will have ten successful throws in a row, even the beginning of the series makes people think that the player is “hot,” “in the flow,” or some other more-or-less magical thinking about the possible reasons. We fabulate probability.
The same goes for bad patches at work, in exams, during presentations, and in other evaluating situations. Statistically, it’s a given that some people who have otherwise been diligent in the same activity will end up with nerves, poorer concentration, lower physical energy, distracting thoughts due to external events, and various other factors, leading to a lower performance on the day of a major evaluation—and they will be punished for that. Understanding probability is yet another reason why final exams of various kinds are a crude, sometimes cruel, yet statistically not very robust way of evaluating someone’s abilities—yet another thing that Rose has written about.
Our brain loathes incoherence, the feeling of randomness is horrifying to us, and the brain counteracts it with narratives, stories that bring “certainty” about reasons for events or their probability. This is exacerbated during times of upheaval and uncertainty, like the Covid-19 pandemic, if the culture we are part of has a proclivity towards this kind of thinking, or if various manipulators nudge us into their narratives as the answer to our anxieties. A lot of superstition, wrong bets, wrong interview candidate evaluations, and wrong investments are driven by this phenomenon. Narrative and statistical illiteracies are cousins happily lodging in the same room of our mind—to our common misfortune.
6. Creative literacy
Someone once called creativity “the last resource”—what we do when we don’t know what to do. Creativity is the closest to real magic in our individual and collective endeavours. It leads to new industries, new perspectives, new inspirations, new resources, and new ways of solving problems. And yet, as documented by many activists fighting for global school reform, something tragic has been happening with this vital force in school.
Some years ago, NASA developed a special creativity test for its scientists, and then, just out of curiosity, decided to use it to test 1,600 children as well. What they found astonished them: at 4 and 5 years old, fully 98% of the kids fell into the “genius” category, creativity-wise. When the test was repeated with the same children five years later, the results plunged to 30%, and by the time they were 15, only 12% were in the genius category! Tested again when they reached adulthood, barely 2% of these young people registered at that level. The conclusion was that school, as we know it today, systematically kills our creativity, our natural state of being, the superpower we are all born with and posses until the merciless press of the industrial educational and employment system squeezes it out of us. This is hardly a new phenomenon and it has been explored in painful detail by distinguished scholars such as Sir Ken Robinson and, again, Todd Rose.
Creativity is about being “new” and “different” by definition, departure from the norm, change, shake-up, and disruption—all of the bothersome qualities most of our official environments are trying to avoid at all costs. As creative beings, we have managed to produce the mother of all paradoxes: we’ve built a civilisation that treats its most fundamental and magical trait as an enemy, a nuisance, an illness that should be eradicated with processes, measurements, and systemic and cultural norms that punish deviation. A new educational system requires a new ideology of, not just acceptance, but active celebration of the “neuro non-typical,” eccentricity, radical thinking and contrarianism of all kinds—as long as it doesn’t jeopardise the safety, security and personal integrity of others. And I mean this in the most basic, not symbolic or status, terms. Given the nature of our current educational systems, this literacy is likely to be the most difficult one to implement, for two main reasons.
The first was mentioned at the beginning of the article: a system based on standardisation and mass averages, teacher training and the evaluation of their—and their students’—performance, and the daily structure of activities. All of this is fundamentally opposed to creativity. The second reason is the understanding and acceptance of the very notion of creativity by departments of education and their governments.
One last word
Curricula for these new kinds of literacy already exist, along with literature, thought leaders and methodologies. Nobody can credibly say that we don’t know how to pull off this new enlightenment project. We even have an abundance of successful experiments—and not just in Finland. The only thing that we truly lack is the lack of systemic will to even try it. The challenge to the status quo is simply too huge.
It makes me wonder why. After all, these literacies abound in various branches of the economy, with a lot of money invested in supporting and developing them. Advertising, political propaganda, sales and the whole of the entertainment industry make a killing through archetypal storytelling, impulse-stimulating tactics, attention-hacking, super-rational team organisation, and intensive, rational use of data. Creativity is written all over consumer-based industries. These people truly understand how human nature and our cognitive heuristics work—but they have weaponised this knowledge. Sometimes they use this understanding to develop new ideas that genuinely improve the way we live our lives. But I can’t shake off the feeling—and my insider experience confirms it—that, most of the time, it is used against us, in an ideological system that puts profit above people and above the planet.
These weaponised lilteracies have led to a stealth methodology, the “black ops” kind of thinking, to use an expression by Mara Einstein, that slips vested interests under the radar of our attention and our understanding. Enlightening people through these new literacies would fundamentally shift the balance of power, our perceptions of reality and our priorities in life, as well as our very selves, and the political and economic systems we believe in—or at least support, even if we don’t believe in them, for all different human reasons… But no one in power will like it and that’s why this article will be treated as just another utopian proposition without any chance of actually being implemented. After all, the six illiteracies are the recipe for control.
Still, that vicious circle has to be at least weakened, if not broken, if we care about ourselves, on this speck of dust we call the planet Earth.
Copy editor: Lidia Alexandra Wolanskyj
All terms in this article are meant to be used neutrally for men and women
Lazar Dzamić has participated at the International Expert Exchange, "Development of Municipalities: trust, institutions, finance and people", organized by U-LEAD with Europe Programme in December 2020. His speech delivered during one of the workshops is to a great extent depicted in this article.
In the name of the U-LEAD with Europe Programme, we would like to express our great appreciation and thanks for both inputs of Mr Dzamić. The article will be included in future online publication Compendium of Articles.
Compendium of Articles is a collection of papers prepared by policymakers, Ukrainian and international experts, and academia after International Expert Exchange 2019 and 2020, organized by U-LEAD with Europe Programme. The articles raise questions in the fields of decentralisation reform and regional and local development, relevant for both the Ukrainian and the international audience. The Compendium will be published online in Ukrainian and English languages on the U-LEAD online recourses. Please, follow us on Facebook to stay informed about the project.
If you have any comments or questions about the Compendium of articles or this article in particular, please contact Yaryna Stepanyuk firstname.lastname@example.org.
This publication has been produced with the assistance of the European Union and its member states Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia and Slovenia. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of its authors and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the U-LEAD with Europe Programme, the government of Ukraine, the European Union and its member states Germany, Poland, Sweden, Denmark, Estonia and Slovenia.
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